The Maritime History of the Great Lakes
British Whig (Kingston, ON), Sept. 24, 1881

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An Old River Captain Recounts His Experiences.

The item in last week's Independent in regard to the tug and barge running the Lachine rapids was erroneous insofar as it being an unprecedented event. In the course of a conversation with Capt. S.G. Johnson we learned that up to the date of the completion of the Lachine canal, it was an every day occurrence for barges 50 to 70 feet in length to shoot the rapids in tow of a tug, with a long hawser which had to be payed out a few feet as the tug dropped into the three successive cascades, else the line would part. At each successive "fall" the barge would shoot alongside the tug, and taking advantage of the position the crew would haul in a portion of the hawser to hold in readiness for the next jump. These barges went to Montreal, and after loading with merchandise were taken to Kingston via the Ottawa River and Rideau Canal, where the cargo was loaded into propellers and sent on up the lakes. The pilots, and indeed the crew, were, for the most part Indians, who were very superstitious about

Shooting The Rapids.

On arriving at the head of them they were in the habit of dropping on their knees and praying to charms about their necks for about five minutes, and on getting into still water below they would rush to the cabin, and the way they would eat was frightful. Among the very few white pilots at this time (1840) were Capt. Collins of the steamer Belle, who was master of a tug, Capt. Powers of Kingston, his mate, and Capt. Archy Marshall. Mr. Johnston was "boy" on the tug mentioned, and made a reputation among the sailors on the first trip. The tow line was not slackened as the tug passed over the first fall, and as a matter of course it parted. The crew became frightened, and as the barge shot over the rapid and came alongside the tug they deserted her and clambered aboard. Mr. Johnston and Henry Oades took a hawser, and going aboard the barge stayed till their destination was reached. A few years previous to this the vessels used in

Navigating The St. Lawrence

river were not of sufficient size to assume the dignity of "barge," but were simply batteaux, or Durham boats, as they were called, perhaps 40 feet in length by 12 to 15 feet beam, and storing two tiers of flour in the hold. These were taken down the inside channels, as up to this date none had ventured into the main, or, as it was called, the Lost Channel. They were brought back through the same course by a crew of 15 to 20 men with poles. A crew was stationed at intervals lengthwise of the boat, and each man with a pole on the bottom walked toward the stern, enough remaining to hold the boat, while two by two the others returned to the bow to secure a new hold. So it will be seen that what is now a subject of remark was once a common occurrence.

The First Steamboat

that passed Lachine rapids was the Ontario, afterwards called Lord Sydenham. This boat was built at Niagara, was 220 feet long, and fast. Once when bound for Toronto her shaft was broken and one wheel fell overboard. A passing steamer, the Cobourg, bound for the same port, came to her assistance, but the captain declined, saying that he could get along. After filling one boiler with cold water and rolling the sand barrels on the same side, he repaired the damage temporarily and beat the Cobourg into Toronto with one wheel! This made her famous, and a representative of a line of boats plying between Montreal and Quebec was sent to purchase her at any price, provided she could be gotten to Montreal. But how to get her through the rapids was the question. The water in the inside

Channel Was Too Low,

and an attempt to shoot the main or Lost Channel was believed to be sure destruction. One pilot agreed to undertake the job for one thousand dollars. He believed the Lost Channel was navigable and accordingly set about a novel plan to put the idea to the test. Hiring a gang of Indians he set to work to make a large crib, similar to a stave crib, through which he drove stakes so that they projected 10 feet below the bottom of the crib. It was towed by canoes to the head of the rapids, where, after stationing Indians in trees the whole length of the rapids to watch its course, it was set adrift. At the foot of the falls another gang caught the crib, and turning it over found that none of the stakes were broken. Satisfied that there was ten feet of clear water, at least in the channel, the pilot then brought his vessel to the spot and taking the Indians aboard each piloted the steamer as far as he had observed the course of the crib. By thus changing pilots the steamer was taken safely through the rapids to Montreal. [Clayton Independent]


The tug F.A. Folger will be in service in about three weeks.

Quite a fleet of vessels are expected to reach Garden Island this evening.

The tug Mary left this morning to assist the Maple Leaf which is ashore near Port Dover.

The schr. Norway and Oriental have arrived at Garden Island with oak from Toledo. They had a slow voyage down the lakes.

The Lincoln had not 4,000 bushels of grain damaged by the heavy weather, but 400 bushels. An extra cipher makes a wonderful difference.

The str. D.C. West had today's trip down the Rideau Canal cancelled. A few days ago she damaged her boiler, to repair which required considerable time.

The tug Mixer is anchored two miles outside of Indian Point, South Bay. Her line is twisted around her wheel. She was engaged in picking up a $44,000 raft when she got into the present fix.

The steamer Vandervilt, owned by Capt. Crandell, was burned at Lindsay yesterday morning. It is supposed to have been struck by lightning. The steamer when built cost $18,000 and had always been kept in good repair. There was an insurance of $5,000 upon the boat.

A man named Matthew Doyle had his leg broken at Toledo last week, on the schr. Bavaria. A letter to the President of the Sailors' Union says: "On Sunday he was put on the wharf, and, furthermore, the Captain never as much as brought a doctor to see him, but left him on my (the writer's) hands.


Str. Spartan, Montreal, pass. and fgt.

Str. Algerian, Hamilton, pass. and fgt.

Schr. Flora Carveth, Toronto, 13,323 bu. wheat.

Schr. Julia, Toronto, 7,417 bush. wheat.

Welland Canal - Bound Down.

Schr. Gulnair, Point Sauble, Collinsby, timber.

Schr. M.C. Upper, Toledo, Collinsby, timber.

Schr. Prince Alfred, Point Sauble, Collinsby, timber.

Schr. Bangalore, Port Huron, Garden Island, staves.

Schr. Prussia, Toledo, Garden Island, timber.

A Raft Wrecked - tug W.T. Robb towing raft, ashore 1 mile above entrance to upper gap.

Local Fishing Grounds - Peter Kiel's plan to ban netting in certain areas.

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Date of Original:
Sept. 24, 1881
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Rick Neilson
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Public domain: Copyright has expired according to the applicable Canadian or American laws. No restrictions on use.
Maritime History of the Great Lakes
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British Whig (Kingston, ON), Sept. 24, 1881